Parshat Toldot: Rabbi Akiva’s soul was hidden in the heel of Eisav

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Secrets of the Torah with Rav Eliezer Berland, shlita

The work of the tzaddikim is to extract the sparks that have been swallowed up by the Sitra Achra, [and that are now hidden inside] the klipot (husks of evil) and the evil-doers. And this is what was written about Yaakov Avinu: “and his hand was grasping the heel of Eisav” – that already when he was in his mother’s womb, he started trying to draw out the soul of Rabbi Akiva, that had been swallowed up into Eisav’s heel.

And this is why Eisav asked Yitzhak ‘how do we tithe straw?’ and ‘how do we tithe salt?’ (Rashi 26:27). Since when would we expect an Eisav to ask ‘how do we tithe straw?’ Or ‘how do we tithe salt?’

The Baal Shem Tov says that this hints to the soul of Rabbi Akiva that was hidden in Eisav’s heel, and that [this soul] is what caused Eisav to start asking all of these shailot (questions about Jewish law).


Because every time a rasha (evil-doer) says something good, it’s only because the neshama (soul) of a Tzaddik has somehow been aroused inside of them. It’s written (in Tractate Nedarim 50a) about Rabbi Akiva and his wife that they didn’t have any pillows or bedding, and that they used to sleep on straw.

When Eliyahu Hanavi came to them disguised as a poor person, Rabbi Akiva gave him some straw…We see from here that Eisav only asked about how to tithe straw because the soul of Rabbi Akiva became aroused within him, and that’s what caused him to ask these questions.

Because only Rabbi Akiva tithed [i.e. donated] straw.


Yaakov’s work was to extract the souls from Eisav’s heel; the souls of converts had been swallowed into there, the biggest souls, and the highest time to raise these souls up is at Chatzot (halachic midnight). As Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz said:

“There are such big souls, the biggest souls in the world, who have fallen from Igra Rama to Bira Amikta, they’ve fallen into the deepest depths of the klipot. And when the time comes around to say the Tikkun Chatzot, then we raise up the biggest souls that have descended to these places, and with each and every letter, we raise up another neshama and another neshama.”

This is like King David, who was the biggest soul, and who was dafka ‘extracted’ from Sdom[1], and rescued from the most awful things.


The Tikkun Chatzot (midnight lamentation) is the hardest thing to do, because it’s in the middle of the night. Some people want to be learning at that time: “If I woke up already, let me at least learn some Gemara! What?! I should always just repeat the same chapters?! The same verses?! The same bits of psalms?!”

People think that the daily prayers he recites today are exactly the same ones they said yesterday, and that’s why they don’t have any strength to do it. They want to say something new! But really, getting up for Chatzot is what builds the new day, this is what renews a person!

The more a person can begin his day at an early hour, and can start with Tikkun Chatzot and then continue on from there, filling his morning with prayers that he recites word by word, and letter by letter, with niggunim and songs – this is how he’ll build a new stage of life for himself, and how he’ll rescue Am Yisrael from all the difficult decrees.


And this is what Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz taught: “Only if a person recites the Tikkun Chatzot word by word, and letter by letter, will he raise up all the neshamas throughout the whole world. By way of reciting the Tikkun Chatzot, every single neshama will be rectified, and the biggest souls – the very biggest souls – that fell into the deepest depths of the klipot (realm of evil) will be extracted.”

Every single soul that made teshuva, this is only in the merit of those people who recite the Tikkun Chatzot, and who weep in the night. These are the people who are rescuing souls from the deepest pits of Sheol (another term for purgatory.)


If a person really knew what the Beit HaMikdash really was, he would cry and mourn every single night at Chatzot. But hardly anyone misses the temple, hardly anyone needs to have the temple back, because everyone has their piece of cake at home, and their food, and their drinks. They don’t need the temple. Baruch Hashem, everyone feels great right up until their 120th birthday!

But there are still a few people who do miss the temple. Reb Nachman Shuster was a simple Jew who spent some time in Uman, and saw how the people there prayed with such enthusiasm, and how they used to weep when they recited Tikkun Chatzot. When he returned home, he also started to recite the Tikkun Chatzot, and to weep over the Beit HaMikdash.

Everyone started laughing at him, because they could see that he didn’t know how to say the words properly, and that he’d only say half the words. They came over to him and told him: “Why are you saying the Tikkun Chatzot?! First, go and learn your aleph-bet!” Reb Nachman replied: “You don’t miss the Temple! You’re talmid chachams (learning in Torah), and geniuses, and Tzaddikim. You don’t need to say any lamentations, or Tikkun Chatzot. But me? I’m a simple cobbler. And I miss the temple.”

After this happened, Rabbi Mordechai Sokolov and Rabbi Shlomo Gavriel came over to him – two of the biggest Torah geniuses! – and asked him: “Where did you get a heart like that?” [Reb Nachman] told them: “I got it in Uman.” They responded, “It that’s so, then we’re also going to go there!” And that’s how they merited to draw closer to Breslov, by way of a simple Jew who used to weep while reciting Tikkun Chatzot….”

Translated from the Tzama Nafshi newsletter

[1] King David descended from Ruth the Moabitess, and the people of Moab in turn descended from Lot’s forbidden relationship with his daughter that occurred after Sdom and Gomorrah had been destroyed.


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